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Strand Bookstore. Class action against the company due to inaccessible e-commerce

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Like many of the most important bookstores, well-known Strand, New York, makes its books available on the internet, allowing readers to browse the “virtual shelves” of its website and to buy the titles they want.

But not all customers are satisfied with this service: on December 19, 2022, Marta Hanyzkiewicz, a visually impaired woman, filed a class action against Strand Book Store Inc. accusing the company of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): the US federal law that punishes discrimination of people with disabilities and guarantees them equal opportunities.

The reason for the legal action is that, according to Hanyzkiewicz, the online store had several accessibility problems, thus preventing blind and visually impaired people from having a satisfactory search and shopping experience like other users.

Among the critical issues denounced with the class action there were, for example: the lack of alternative descriptions, that can provide those who cannot see with the information on the content of an image and the lack of semantic tagging of the headings, to communicate the hierarchical structure of the page, and also the presence of “broken” links pointing to an unavailable resource.

For people who need assistive technologies to navigate a website, these factors can make it impossible to use digital products, contents, and services. Because of these problems, the woman said she was unable to understand which books were on sale in the Strand e-store.

>What the class action aims to do is, in addition to damages and legal costs, that the Strand Bookstore adjusts the e-commerce to make it accessible and then keep it so for all users over time.

The European regulation on the subject

Regardless of the outcome of the legal action, this episode is significant since it highlights how the needs of readers with disabilities do not only concern e-books, but all stages of production and distribution of digital publications: publishers, suppliers, bookstores, and all those who play a role in the publishing sector must consider accessibility not only for e-books, but also for catalogues, distribution channels, software and reading applications.

This is well in mind today also in Europe: the approval of the European Accessibility Act marks a fundamental turning point in this regard, stating that  from June 2025 many products and services will have to satisfy specific accessibility requirements. The Directive also applies to e-books, providing for the involvement of the entire publishing chain which will have to guarantee accessible services.

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Legislative context